Saturday, November 29, 2014

My first Mexican Thanksgiving

I am so thankful. My first Thanksgiving away from home was absolutely incredible, thanks to the love and good company of people both far and near. Here is what I am thankful for:

 Hiking through the butterfly sanctuary (photo courtesy of Alicia)

Language: It never ceases to amaze me that here in Mexico City I have met and worked with so many people from different countries who I would have never crossed paths with nor even been able to talk to if we both had not learned a second language. Every day at work I collaborate with a French co-worker who speaks almost no English and with whom I would never have been able to communicate if we had both not learned a second language. Sometimes it feels as if the world is converging here in Mexico City, where I have met so many international visitors. When I went on a hike a few weekends ago to see the monarch butterfly migration in Michoacán, our guide abandoned us in the middle of the mountain, telling us to wait while he checked to make sure we were going the right way. We were four people, each from a different country, and we were essentially alone in a forest on the side of a hill, completely out of breath. Yet, since we all spoke Spanish, we joked around and laughed uncontrollably until the guide came back for us. Laughter is the ultimate unifier.

Butterfly sanctuary and Valle de Bravo
Nature: I have come to appreciate even the slightest remnants of nature while living in this bustling, polluted, concrete-laden city. Every crack in the pavement is full of green shoots. There is an entire flock of ducks and other water birds living in the lake in Parque México. And even though it’s November, sunlight still dances on the fronds of palms and the branches of birch trees in Parque España just a block from my house. But even noticing the little pieces of nature scattered amidst daily city life had not prepared me for the overwhelming joy and awe I felt when I went to Valle de Bravo. Trees and moss made a mirage of green across entire mountainsides. Billowing clouds, illuminated from behind by heavenly rays of sun, rested like footprints on a canvass of clear blue sky. Even when we were driving back to the city, my last glimpse of the lake in the distance, just a split second snapshot through the van window, left me feeling whole and at peace. I have been reminded recently how powerful nature can be and I am incredibly thankful for its endless gifts of healing and peace despite how we poorly we continue to treat it.

My family took me out to Thanksgiving dinner and my friends came to celebrate Friends-giving (photo courtesy of Alicia)

People: People are just amazing. My co-workers are patient and kind, giving advice about living in Mexico, while patiently helping me improve my Spanish. The entrepreneurs I work with are inspiring, hopeful, determined, and dedicated.  My Mexican family has shown me unconditional love and support that has helped me greatly in my adjustment to Mexico. One of my aunts, my uncle, and cousins took me out to Thanksgiving dinner last Thursday night and it was amazing! My family at home Skyped me in to Thanksgiving dinner and as I “sat” with them at the table, my computer screen showing me the familiar table surrounded by family, I could feel the love radiating out of the screen, dissolving the geographical distance between us and embracing me with open arms. I miss my friends from home on a daily basis. Yet their capacity for compassion and love even from miles away never ceases to amaze me. I can feel their support like a gentle breeze behind me, always encouraging me forward. The new friends I have met here have brought so much joy into my life. I have shared deep discussions as well as fits of hysterical laughter with these incredible people, locals and foreigners alike. It is mind-blowing to remember that I had no idea these people even existed just a few months earlier. My apartment was filled with over 20 people for Thanksgiving dinner, and it was one of the happiest moments I have had here.

The Thanksgiving dinner table

Good food: My first Thanksgiving away from home included more people and more types of food than I think I have ever had at a Thanksgiving dinner. We had people from 6 different countries and so. much. food. I have so many leftovers that I don’t think I’ll have to go food shopping for weeks!

Music: At some point during the dinner, a group of us were crowded around my roommate and her acoustic guitar, belting out the lyrics of pop, rock, and alternative songs alike. The music brought us all together and it was one of the moments where I have felt most at home here.
Health: While I have been dealing with stomach and back issues for what at times has felt like an eternity, I am grateful for my body and mind that have carried me up mountains, walked countless city blocks, done hours of yoga, swam laps in the pool, ate delicious Mexican food, held captivating conversations in two languages, translated documents, and continues to think critically about the big picture of my life and how it affects those around me.

Change: This Thanksgiving there were ominous clouds hovering over the festivities: protests continued for 43 students missing in Ayotzinapa, Mexico and the ruling of Michael Brown’s court case in Ferguson, Missouri sparked protests across the US. These events have jolted the world awake to the social problems we face today across the globe. At first this news depressed me; I thought we had made more progress than this. Yet as young people all over the world continue to demand change, I am hopeful that we will make a positive difference in this world in our future. And I am thankful to be a part of this generation of changemakers.

On the lake in Valle de Bravo

Opportunity: Every day I marvel at the fact that I was blessed with the opportunity to take this adventure. I learn something new every day, seeing beautiful sights and meeting extraordinary people along the way. I am even more excited for the rest of my fellowship here at Endeavor Mexico than I was when I started, eager to find out what more I have yet to learn and where it will lead me.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Day of the Dead: A Celebration of Life

Our tour group outside the cemetery of Tzintzuntzan

I have been living in Mexico for about 4 months now and I am still amazed by how much I have learned and have yet to learn. Mexico has continually challenged and surprised me. Día de los Muertos was no exception.

Ever since I first arrived here I have noticed that Mexicans have a unique relationship with death compared to people in the United States. I have many relatives here and have attended a few family funerals since my arrival. While there was still much sadness at these funerals, I noticed that there was also much less of something that I was used to feeling at funerals in the US: fear. While we try to find comfort in religion and others when someone dies, there is still this hesitance to speak of death and an attempt to try and ignore it in US cultures. Mexican culture does the exact opposite and as a result, Mexicans are much more connected with and open to communicating with the spiritual world. On multiple occasions, conversations have led to talk of spiritual legends and many, many personal encounters with the spirits of deceased relatives. The culmination of this embracing of the spiritual world is the Day of the Dead. I had the opportunity to travel to several cities in the state of Michoacán, well-known for their traditional celebrations of the Day of the Dead: Patxcuaro, Janitzio, Morelia, Santa Clare de Cobre, and the pre-hispanic ruins of Tzintzuntzan. I was completely awestruck by what I saw. It was not a day of solemn remembrance, but rather a full-blown celebration of life. I walked through cemeteries glittering in bright orange with thousands of marigolds covering the ground, the headstones, and the entrances. I saw families sitting around the gravesites of relatives, laughing, chatting, singing, dancing, as comfortable as if they were in their own backyards. I saw people selling papas and pan de muerto (a traditional pastry with orange and anise flavor) among the gravestones, as if it were a stadium at a sporting event. I saw the devotion and dedication that went into making the intricately decorated ofrendas (offerings) at each headstone, with flowers, candles, fruits, breads, pastries, and cherished worldly possessions of the deceased. I was stuck by the fact that if I had traveled to a graveyard on a holiday in the United States, it would be a much more somber, and even slightly unsettling, experience. I am incredibly impressed by Mexico´s approach to remembering the dead and I hope to channel that same sense of joy, peace, and celebration into my own relationship with death.

Copper museum in Santa Clara de Cobre

 The view of Lake Patzcuaro from the ruins of Tzintzuntzan

Me in the pre-hispanic ruins of Tzintzuntzan

Ponche: apples + guanabana + peaches + cane sugar = best hot drink ever

Graveyard decorated for Day of the Dead

 View on the boat ride to the island of Janitzio at sunset